Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Dark Secrets Of The White Lady


On August 1st, 2011, an enchantingly beautiful tall ship bearing the equally enchanting name "Esmeralda" will enter Canadian waters to begin a two week visit to the cities of Victoria and Vancouver.

Her four masts and 21 sails stand almost 160 feet above the water. Longer than a football field and carrying a crew of 390, she is the second largest sailing vessel still plying the oceans of the world.

A training ship for the Chilean Navy, "La Esmeralda" comes as a guest of the Canadian Government and the Canadian Navy. And a lot of Canadians are requesting that both change their minds and order her to turn back.

For although she is affectionately known as "The White Lady", Esmeralda has a very dark and horrific past.

From 1973 to 1980, she was one of the primary places where Chilean political prisoners and innocent civilians caught up in the web of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet were taken to be raped, tortured and ultimately "disappeared".

Now let's be clear. This magnificent ship had no say in what happened aboard her. And most of the men who sail in her today weren't even born when those crimes against humanity were committed.

But more than 30 years after The White Lady's last victim was slipped over her sides to an unmarked watery grave, no one has been called to account.

Despite detailed investigations conducted by Amnesty International, the US Senate, and the Organization of American States, and despite Chile's own Truth and Reconciliation Commission which all detailed and documented what happened aboard the ship, the Chilean Navy has refused to acknowledge having any part in what was done, let alone name which of their officers and men participated.

At the end of May, despite this continued Naval Blockade of the Truth, the Chilean Government finally charged 19 retired senior naval officers. But no one knows when or even if they will ever be brought to trial.

Last week, the Mayor and City Council of Victoria unanimously requested that our Federal Government and Navy rescind their invitations to "Esmeralda" and similar motions are expected from the cities of Saanich, View Royal and Esquimalt (Home of the Canadian Pacific Fleet) whose shores the ship will have to pass to reach Victoria's Inner Harbor.

It's the height of tourist season in a part of the country that thrives on tourism and with massive cruise ships arriving daily no one wants to wear the stain "Esmeralda" inevitably trails in her wake.

For if she does arrive, she will be greeted, as she is in virtually every port, by crowds of Human Rights activists, protesters and vivid street theatre re-enactments of her past. In Victoria, she will also be met by several members of the clergy, even the normally straight-laced Anglican ones, wanting to know the fate of their fellow Episcopal Priest Father Michael Woodward whose last known whereabouts were in a torture room below Esmeralda's decks.

Yet, plans are afoot for the usual Pomp and Circumstance. Naval bands will parade. Ceremonial cannons will fire. And local dignitaries will go aboard to dine with the Captain.

I don't know if they will visit the rooms where hundreds of young women, many with no political affiliation whatsoever, were brutalized, gang raped and murdered. But I do know they'll cross the deck where chained and naked men were battered by the water from fire hoses until their flesh was flayed. They'll most certainly get to see the masts around which others were handcuffed for days, left to the elements and beaten with rifle butts if they tried to sleep.

Allowing "Esmeralda" to visit a Canadian port on a "Good Will Tour" is on a par with taking one of the Auschwitz ovens around the Summer BBQ circuit. And those responsible for that latter obscenity were at least brought to justice.

Although the Chilean Navy rationalizes the various visits of "Esmeralda" as an opportunity to move on, the revelations of her past and the work of those trying to bring her former sailors to account are making that more and more difficult. She has been banned from several ports already and unceremoniously escorted out of others "for her own protection".

Maybe we too need to ask "Esmeralda" to go home and wash the last of the blood from her decks before welcoming her as a guest in our country.


double nickel said...

Sounds like a case for

double nickel said...

I jsut dahsed off a quick note to the Sausalito Yacht Club, who are also hosting the ship, asking some of the same questions. I'll keep you posted on their response. :)

Kai said...

And when will the left demand the same of Cuba, or China, or Russia? Stalin murdered 60 million Soviet citizens during his reighn. In china they have slaughtered 70 million or more in the name of International Socialism. And when will Canadians who like to sun their fat, white bellies in Havana demand that the Castro regime make ammends for 18000 murdered Cubans.

pinchiets crimes? Approximately 3500 people executed or disappeared. Terrible yes, but only the twisted mind of some leftist goon can say Pinochet was worse than Castro.

rick mcginnis said...

I'm kinda torn on this. My attitude about Pinochet v. Allende has always been "a pox on both of them." And I've never been a fan of the unsatisfying 'truth & reconciliation' model of justice without consequences. But as you said, the ship wasn't built to facilitate the atrocities that happened aboard her, and the crew wasn't alive when they happened. But Chile hasn't sufficiently dealt with the crimes committed under Pinochet. And though that country's renewal has happened largely as a result of decisions taken by Pinochet later in his rule, the accounting is still incomplete. If a protest or rescinding of an invitation is what it takes to force Chile to go further, maybe that's a good thing, but as Kai said, Castro has wrought worse damage, and Canada treats Cuba like an 11th province. Something to consider if you're looking for consistency...

double nickel said...

Apparently Kai the channel changer has never heard of Amnesty International, a group that is neither left or right, but which works to expose gov't sponsored murder and torture wherever it is found.

jimhenshaw said...

Y'know Rick, I think anybody looking for consistency in this world is facing a very long hunt.

And I completely agree that the "let's all have a good cry and a group hug" mentality of Truth & Reconciliation Commissions is Bullshit.

I've also never traveled to Cuba, despite winters when God knows that's the only sunshine I could afford because the accounting there is still overdue.

But I figure you do what little you can wherever you can to chain up the junkyard dogs, whatever their political leaning.

And Kai, what can I say. Perhaps the Generalismo's body count is too meager to cause you great concern. But I'm sure even you wouldn't be silent if your sister was one of the innocents plucked from the streets of Montevideo for a night of "Hello, sailor!" before she was deep-sixed at sea.

And I'd guess that today you're far more outraged by Bill Maher's "Hate Sex" rant than any murders committed by someone on the Right.

It always saddens me when we allow
our ideologies to trump our humanity.

DMc said...

Jim you leftist bastard.


Seriously, good post. But what do I know. I'm pretty centrist, which clearly means to Kai and the great and good lions of the internet that I blow Stalin three times daily.

Jim, we miss you at the socialist singalongs.